How to Fix iTunes Original File Could Not Be Found Error

What to do when iTunes says it can't find your music

Young professional working on a computer and listening to music

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From time to time you may see an exclamation point next to a song in iTunes. When you try to play that song, iTunes gives you an error saying that "the original file could not be found." That seems bad! What's going on — and how do you fix it?

What Causes the iTunes Original File Could Not Be Found Error 

The exclamation point appears next to a song when iTunes doesn't know where to find the MP3 or AAC file for that song. This happens because the iTunes program doesn't actually store your music in the program itself. Instead, iTunes is more like a big directory of music that knows where every music file is stored on your hard drive. When you double-click a song to play it, iTunes goes to the place on your hard drive where it expects to find the file. 

However, if the music file isn't located where iTunes expects, the program can't play the song. That's when you get the error.

The most common causes of this error are when you move a file from its original location, move it outside of the iTunes Music folder, delete a file, or move your entire library. These problems can also arise because other media programs sometimes move files without telling you.

How to Fix This Error For One or Two Songs

Now that you know what causes the error, how do you fix it? Follow these steps for a quick fix if you're seeing the error on just one or two songs:

  1. Double-click the song with the exclamation point next to it.

  2. iTunes pops up the "the original file could not be found" error. In that pop-up, click Locate.

  3. Browse your computer's hard drive until you locate the missing song.

  4. Double-click the song (or click the Open button).

  5. Another pop-up offers to try to find other missing files. Click Find Files.

  6. iTunes either adds more files or lets you know it couldn't. Either way, click the button to continue.

  7. Try playing the song again. It should work fine and the exclamation point should be gone.

This technique doesn't actually move the location of the music file. Instead, it updates the location in the "directory" for where iTunes expects to find it. So, when iTunes looks in the new location, it finds the file and plays it with no problems. 

How to Fix This Error for Many Songs

If you've got the exclamation mark next to a large number of songs, finding each one individually could take a really long time. In this case, the problem can often be solved by consolidating your iTunes library.

This feature of iTunes scans your hard drive for music files and then automatically moves them to the correct location in your iTunes Music folders. To use it, follow these instructions:

  1. Open iTunes.

  2. Click on the File menu.

  3. Click Library.

  4. Click Organize Library.

  5. In the Organize Library pop-up window, click Consolidate files.

  6. Click OK.

At this point, iTunes scans your entire hard drive to find the files it's missing, makes copies of them, and moves those copies to the correct location in the iTunes Music folder. Unfortunately, this makes two copies or every song, taking up twice the disk space. Some people prefer this scenario. If you don't, just delete the old files from their original locations.

If Your iTunes Library Is on an External Hard Drive

If run your entire iTunes library from an external hard drive, the link between the songs and iTunes can be lost from time to time, especially after the hard drive has been unplugged. In that case, you'll get the exclamation point error for the same reason — iTunes doesn't know where the files are — but with a slightly different fix. To re-establish the link between iTunes and your library:

  1. Click the iTunes menu on a Mac or the Edit menu on a PC.

  2. Click Preferences.

  3. Click the Advanced tab.

  4. Click the Change button in the iTunes Media folder location section.

  5. Browse through your computer and locate your external hard drive.

  6. Browse through that to locate your iTunes Media folder and select it.

  7. Double-click it or click Open.

  8. Click OK in the Preferences window.

With that done, the iTunes program should know where to find your files again and you should be able to listen to your music again.

How to Prevent The iTunes Original File Could Not Be Found Error in the Future

Wouldn't you like to prevent this problem from happening again? You can, by changing one setting in iTunes. Here's what to do:

  1. Open iTunes.

  2. Click the iTunes menu on a Mac or the Edit menu on a PC.

  3. Click Preferences.

  4. In the Preferences pop-up, click the Advanced tab.

  5. Check the box next to Keep iTunes Media folder organized.

  6. Click OK.

With this setting enabled, every time you add a new song to iTunes, it is automatically added to the correct place in your iTunes Music folder, no matter where the file was located previously. This won't fix any song that currently has the original file could not be found an error, but it should prevent it in the future.